If imitation is the greatest form of flattery…punk don’t flatter me. Tha Alkaholics
Apparently, there are no original ideas. Everything’s been done before. Original creativity does not exist. We all take our inspiration from somewhere, or rather, someone.
Recently, a friend of mine revealed her latest story idea. It sounded imaginative and original. I encouraged her to get typing as soon as we’d finished our soup. I was really thrilled for her; what an inspired idea. I couldn’t wait to read it.
However, when I excitedly told my husband that my great mate had a brilliant idea for a book, he said: ‘War of the Worlds.’ Turns out, it’s also very similar to The Stand by Stephen King. And probably countless others but, for her, the idea was entirely original and one she created solely.
She’s not abandoning the story but making it her own and doesn’t that sum up inspiration? As artists, we may be clueless as to when or where our inspiration came from. We may have watched, heard or read something ten years ago which bedded-down in our brains without our acknowledgement. How disappointing to discover later that our ingenious new idea has really just been nicked from someone else and we’re oblivious.
Can you imagine how frustrating it would be to write 90,000 words of a novel, only to be told, your story had been covered countless times and your take on the concept is much worse. If only there was a creativity database where aspiring artists could type in their original idea and see who else also has the same original idea. If only our imaginative thoughts and revelations could be trademarked. But even that wouldn’t stop the story stealers from thieving others’ sacred creations.
Would there be Harry Potter without The Worst Witch, the Chronicles of Narnia or the Iliad? Who knows. JK Rowling certainly doesn’t:
“I haven’t got the faintest idea where my ideas come from, or how much imagination works. I’m just grateful it does.”
Is poaching ideas from other people acceptable if the offence was accidental? If so, how do we feel about people who deliberately appropriate our ideas, plots, characters, witty lines etc. When does inspiration become imitation and when do they both become plagiarism? And at what point are we allowed to be pissed off?
We can keep all our thoughts and ideas to ourselves and lock them away in a chest under the bed, or, share our dreams with others and see what happens. If your friends suddenly decide to make your dreams, their dreams; then great. You’ve inspired them to think about what they want from their lives and to make the changes needed to achieve their goals. If, on the other hand, your friends take your ideas and pass them off as their own, then at the very least, they need to be defriended on Facebook.
Yet, I think I can say with confidence, we have all been swindlers of ideas, concepts, dress-sense and jokes; at some point in our lives. Conversely, we will remember being victims of stolen stories, games, songs etc. I will never forgive Stephanie Sanderson for pilfering my costume idea in the 1986 Christmas Cracker parade. I remember our mothers arguing in the car park afterwards. Mrs Sanderson shouted, ‘Victoria hardly has the monopoly on bloody Christmas stars!’ as my tin-foil wrapped arms and legs unravelled.
Whilst I can still recall my feelings of outrage that a friend had so brazenly copied me, I didn’t remember those feelings ten years later. My university years were awash with plagiarism. Indeed, it’s probably no estimation that a third of my dissertation was lifted straight from library books. And that goes for most of the essays I wrote too. What disappoints me now, is that I didn’t consider the authors’ feelings for a moment. My desire for a first or a 2:1 far outweighed any guilt I may have felt over the months and maybe years of work, the various authors had put into their books. I just took their thoughts and passed them off as my own. Outrageous.
If I could remember their names, I’d write and apologise. I’d try to explain that whilst my thievery was unforgivable, I was in a sticky situation having foolishly left just two weeks to research and write 20,000 words about the ‘The Causes and Consequences of Institutionalisation.’
Actually, I had just been lazy. And imitation and plagiarism is only undertaken by the lazy. True creativity takes colossal effort. Weeks, months and years are spent on researching, writing and developing ideas. How tempting it is then, to fast-track a way to creativity by plundering someone else’s.
Now I am a writer, my feelings on idea pinching and plagiarism have changed. I feel the same way about film piracy too. Illegally downloading media of any kind is sticking two fingers up to the creators and disrespecting the enormous amount of time and effort taken to produce art. And as much as I hate those poorly produced anti-piracy warnings that flash up before settling into a good film, they do have a point. Piracy is theft. Story stealing is theft. So, embrace inspiration but don’t imitate others. Put in the work and carve out your own path.
I wanted to add a nice picture to this post but didn’t want to steal one from Google Images.